City Hall in Dover, New Hampshire.

Homelessness is a pressing issue that affects not only those experiencing it, but also the communities in which they reside. Dover residents require effective solutions to reduce homelessness and improve the quality of life for both homeless individuals and the broader community. We can draw inspiration from other municipalities that have successfully instituted programs to reduce homelessness.

The Social Impact of Homelessness

Homelessness has social implications that go beyond the individuals directly impacted. It presents challenges to public safety, heightens the risk of crime, and increases pressure on community resources. Data indicates that homeless individuals are prone to chronic health conditions, including mental illnesses, substance abuse disorders, and various medical conditions. Lacking stable housing, they spend more time in emergency rooms, hospitals, psychiatric centers, detoxification programs, and jails. This pattern carries high public costs and poor health outcomes.

Homelessness creates a sense of insecurity within the community. The presence of homeless individuals in public spaces raises concerns about personal safety and deters residents from using areas like the community trail. Solving homelessness is crucial to ensuring a safe environment for all Dover residents.

The Economic Benefits of Proposed Solutions

Investing in solutions to homelessness will deliver more than social benefits. There are economic advantages. Research indicates that providing permanent supportive housing (PSH) reduces expenditures on crisis services; jails, hospitalization, and emergency departments. A chronically homeless person costs taxpayers an average of $35,578 per year. The cost is reduced by approximately 49% when they have access to supportive housing.

By adopting a Housing First program and investing in supportive services, Dover can alleviate the financial burden on taxpayers. Stable housing, combined with case management and supportive services, facilitates long-term housing stability for individuals and enhances their overall health and well-being. This reduces the use of expensive crisis services. The result is a cost savings for the community.

Incarceration Is Not the Answer

New Hampshire jails are increasingly serving as medical providers for homeless individuals. As a consequence, medical and staff costs have risen sharply, adding burden on taxpayers. The Department of Corrections has seen a substantial increase in medical expenses for staff, treatment, and medications. This has led to a projected $6.5 million shortfall in the medical budget for this fiscal year. In order to cover inmate medical costs, an additional $6.5 million has been required in recent months. Ambulance costs have particularly skyrocketed, with a staggering 176% increase since 2022.

The superintendent of the Cheshire County jail has seen medical costs jump 25% year-over-year, while the Merrimack County jail is facing a 15% increase. Rockingham County, unable to recruit medical staff for its jail, had to increase wages by $162,000. These rising costs can be attributed to multiple factors: large increases in the costs of medications, new ways of treating substance use disorder in jails, and sicker patients with expensive medical needs.

The costs associated with inmate medical care fall on taxpayers, even for those inmates who had Medicaid insurance, as they lose coverage while incarcerated. Although state law allows prisons to parole individuals for medical reasons, the cost of their care is not among the criteria. Congresswoman Annie Kuster has introduced federal legislation multiple times to allow inmates to maintain Medicaid coverage while incarcerated, benefiting both the inmates and the counties and states that bear the costs.

The rising medical and staff costs incurred by New Hampshire jails highlight the urgent need for comprehensive solutions to address homelessness. By investing in housing and supportive services, Dover, NH can alleviate the burden on jails and prisons, redirecting resources towards effective interventions that promote long-term stability and well-being for homeless individuals.

Proposed Solutions for Dover, NH

Based on the success of programs in other municipalities, Dover can adopt a similar approach to tackle homelessness effectively. The following solutions are recommended:

Implement a Housing First Program

Prioritize providing homeless individuals with stable housing as the first step towards addressing their needs. This approach has proven effective in reducing homelessness and improving outcomes for individuals.

Invest in Supportive Services

Alongside housing, allocate resources to provide comprehensive support services, including case management, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and employment assistance. These services are crucial for helping individuals maintain housing stability and improve their overall well-being.

Collaborate with Community Organizations

Forge partnerships with local nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and community groups to leverage their expertise and resources in addressing homelessness. Collaborative efforts can enhance the effectiveness of programs and ensure a holistic approach to supporting homeless individuals.

Plan, Do, Check, Act

Addressing homelessness in Dover is not just a matter of social impact. It is also an economic imperative for taxpayers. By implementing evidence-based solutions such as the housing first approach and investing in supportive services, Dover can reduce homelessness, improve public safety, and alleviate the burden on public resources. The rising medical and staff costs incurred by New Hampshire jails underscore the urgency of taking action. Drawing inspiration from successful programs in other municipalities, Dover has the opportunity to create a more inclusive and compassionate community for all its residents while achieving significant cost savings.

Success Stories

Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Since its introduction in 2006, the implementation of Housing First has resulted in a remarkable 82% decrease in chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County. This substantial reduction serves as a testament to the effectiveness of the Housing First approach in providing individuals with the most significant barriers to housing stability with secure housing and essential support services.

The Housing First program in Cuyahoga County has achieved an impressive 96% rate of housing stability. This statistic highlights that the majority of individuals who have been granted permanent supportive housing through this initiative have been successful in maintaining their housing stability over time.

The rate of individuals returning to homelessness after completing the Housing First program in Cuyahoga County is only 4.8%. This remarkably low percentage serves as evidence of the program’s triumph in offering long-term housing solutions and support services that enable individuals to sustain their housing stability.

Salt Lake, Utah

Salt Lake City has experienced a substantial decrease in chronic homelessness. From 2005 to 2015, chronic homelessness in Utah was reduced by 72%. This decrease underscores the efficacy of the Housing First approach in offering stable housing and supportive services to individuals enduring long-term homelessness.

The Housing First initiative in Salt Lake City has led to considerable cost savings. The program is estimated to have saved $8,000 per person accommodated, resulting in a 40% reduction in total expenditure on unhoused individuals. These savings are largely due to the decreased use of expensive crisis services including emergency rooms, hospitals, and the criminal justice system.

The Housing First strategy in Salt Lake City has demonstrated high levels of housing stability. Those who have received permanent supportive housing through the program have shown improved housing stability and a lower rate of returning to homelessness.

The successful reduction in homelessness in Salt Lake City can be attributed to effective leadership, efficient funding, and collaboration among various stakeholders. The program has gained support across the political spectrum, with conservatives acknowledging the cost-effectiveness of the strategy and liberals underlining the ethical necessity of providing homes.

Houston, Texas

Houston has made significant strides in reducing homelessness over the years. From 2012 to 2022, the homeless population in the greater Houston area decreased by 57%, representing a decline of 4,063 individuals. This reduction comprised 42% of the state’s overall improvement in homelessness.

The success Houston has had in reducing homelessness can be attributed to the implementation of the Housing First model. This method prioritizes offering stable housing to homeless individuals as an initial step, without any preconditions or barriers to entry. By concentrating on housing stability, Houston has managed to enhance outcomes for homeless people and curtail the cycle of homelessness.

Emphasizing collaboration among various stakeholders to combat homelessness has been a focus for Houston. The city has collaborated closely with county agencies, local service providers, corporations, and charitable nonprofits to synchronize efforts and maximize impact. This cooperative approach has facilitated a unified strategy and efficient use of resources.

In May 2023, Houston announced a one-year decrease of 17% in street homelessness from January 2022 to January 2023. This reduction is one of the most significant in the city’s history and the largest since Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017.

Reducing homelessness by 17% in one year, and nearly 40 percent since coming into office, does not happen by mistake. Rather, it’s the result of making it a top priority, enhancing our invaluable partnership with Harris County and the community, and strategically funding data-proven, holistic housing solutions.

— Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner


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